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Dating back to the end of the Ice Age, certain art pieces found on cave walls have resembled what is known today as a handbag or purse. The shape continued to appear in ruins of ancient Turkish temples, decorations of the Maori of New Zealand, and crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America.
One of the earliest findings of the handbag can be viewed in the ruins of Göbekli Tepe that date back to approximately 11,000 BC. The Göbekli Tepe is one of the oldest temple complexes ever discovered (Tinfoil Hat, 2014), however, what the temple was used for remains a mystery. Many archaeologists suggest that the sanctuary held religious sacrifices, due to the butchered animal bones collected. The walls and pillars throughout the temple are embellished with intricate carvings of animals, gods, mythical creatures, and three handbags.
An Answer Written in the Stars
The handbag is described to “typically feature a rounded handle-like top and a rectangular bottom and may include varying degrees of additional details of texture or pattern” (Scranton, 2016). Whether the images stand alone or in the hand of a god or goddess-like creature, there are several theories out there to the meaning of this reoccurring object.
The most straightforward explanation is that of the cosmos. The semi-circle of the handbag, the straps, represent the hemisphere of the sky, while the square shape represents the earth. According to Scranton, “In ancient cultures from Africa to India to China, the figure of a circle was associated symbolically with concepts of spirituality or non-materiality, while that of a square was often associated with concepts of the Earth and of materiality” (Scranton, 2016). Therefore the image is seen to represent the unification of both earth and sky, the tangible and intangible elements.
The handbag continues to appear across the globe. It shows up in two stone reliefs, one made by the Assyrians of ancient Iraq sometime between 880-859 BC and the other made by the Olmecs of ancient Mesoamerica sometime between 1200 – 400 BC. Then in New Zealand in an image of a hero who rose to the home of the gods and came back to earth “carrying three baskets of wisdom.” Finally, in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the handbag-like image is seen frequently serving as a home for the gods and goddesses, similar to the Native American tepee.
The theme of the handbag appears to be a cosmological symbol that is often overlooked by the general public that means much more than what meets the eye.